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September Unemployment and Decline in the Labor Force

Last week the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC) released the September jobs report which showed a slight decrease in overall unemployment in Missouri down to 2.4%. Locally in the Cape Girardeau-Jackson statistical area our number held flat at 2.6%, slightly above the statewide average. While these numbers are hovering around historic lows there is more to the data that we should be focusing on.

I’m Rob Gilligan, President and CEO of the Cape Chamber, Let’s Talk Business

While the record low unemployment is certainly something to be positive about, and by many metrics a rate below 3% is often viewed as “full employment”. The information available when we look at the Local Area Unemployment Statistics tells a different story that is of more concern. That is the decline in our total Labor Force by almost 1,000 people since March of this year.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines the labor force as “the sum of employed and unemployed persons.” In March of 2022, the Cape Girardeau MSA reported a seasonally adjusted labor force of 48,118 persons and an unemployment rate of 3.1%. Six months later in September our unemployment rate is down to 2.6% but our total labor force has decreased to 47, 129 which equates to loss of 721 employed persons in our immediate labor market.

The question of why people are leaving the labor force has been discussed in great length over the last two years. A combination of health issues tied to the pandemic, an increasing rate of retirement, and family pressures including childcare or elder care that keep people home. For businesses this means a more competitive hiring market that continues to drive up wages and added pressure on finding and keeping employees.

In the short-term businesses will need to explore new and diverse ways to be flexible and supportive of a workforce that is being pulled in different directions. Overall, we have work to do as a region to attract and retain the talent we need to continue to grow our regional economy.